Spencer Pratt, star of MTV's The Hills, talks to The Daily Beast about how he and wife Heidi Montag scripted their way to becoming actual celebrities. Plus: Perez Hilton on Speidi’s shallow genius.
That whole thing Andy Warhol said about everyone being world famous for 15 minutes? Eff that, say MTV’s The Hills stars Spencer Pratt, 25, and Heidi Montag, 22, who have miraculously spun what should have been 15 minutes—or less—into bona fide fame, including dozens of magazine covers, around-the-clock paparazzi stalking, and a spot on NBC’s upcoming reality show, I’m a Celebrity—Get Me Out of Here, set to premiere June 1. (Other contestants include actor Stephen Baldwin, model Janice Dickinson, former NBA player John Salley and American Idol phenom Sanjaya Malakar.)
When Pratt told Letterman he charges $100,000 to make nightclub appearances, Letterman famously replied, "Stop it, just stop. For a second there, I thought you actually said $100,000."
After three years on the wildly popular MTV show, Speidi-mania has reached a fever pitch. The power blondes are now ubiquitous, even landing on the radar of some of the biggest names in Hollywood—and politics. During his campaign, John McCain told Time.com, “I’m honored to have Heidi’s support and I want to assure her that I never miss an episode of The Hills, especially since the new season started.” In June 2008, David Letterman invited Pratt to sit on his couch, a milestone any up-and-comer would relish. In January 2009, Speidi appeared as themselves on the top-rated CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother.
This past weekend, Speidi got married—again. (Their first “wedding” took place in Mexico on November 20, 2008, and garnered tons of media attention.) A Google search for the most recent “Heidi Montag Spencer Pratt wedding,” which, as opposed to their previous elopement on the beach, took place in Pasadena, California, in front of more than 200 friends and family members, yielded 240,000 results. And according to gossip blog PerezHilton.com, they were reportedly offered $400,000 by both Us Weekly and OK! Magazine for exclusive wedding photos, but the duo turned both offers down.
International fame aside, Speidi has racked up as many enemies as they have fans: Earlier this month, when Pratt challenged Ashton Kutcher to a Twitter race to get the most followers in 30 days, tell-it-like-it-is talk-show host Chelsea Handler ripped Pratt a new one, saying, “Spencer, you can’t make a bet with someone if they don’t know who you are.” Adds Page Six’s Paula Froehlich, author of the forthcoming novel Mercury in Retrograde, “They are such a boring and redundant subject. They’re a derivative of a derivative of Paris Hilton (first derivative: Kim Kardashian). Everyone in L.A. knows how to work the paparazzi.”
Famewhores? No question. And they’re the first to admit it. “Speidi love being famous—you can tell,” Perez Hilton says.
“Heidi and I do we love fame,” Pratt admits, phoning in from Los Cabos, Mexico, where she was shooting her latest music video—the paps lurking nearby. (Off-camera, you can imagine the two rolling around in $100 bills on the bed. If they ever did anything off-camera.) “We’re honored to be famous,” he continues. “We feel blessed to be famous. We pray every day to stay famous. It’s the most fun. That’s our mentality with fame. That’s why we’re so different than everybody else in these tabloids—because we embrace it.”
When asked about the bidding war over their wedding photos, Pratt chuckles. “I’ll give myself a round of applause,” he says, “because [turning down those offers] was one of the smartest things I’ve done. I’ve never understood why celebrities would give exclusives for their wedding photos to one magazine when all of the tabloids would share the love. You can’t put a price on fame. You can’t buy fame. I wouldn’t trade money for more press and fame. They’re not comparable.”
Herewith, a few more nuggets every wannabe tabloid star can learn from the formidable entity that is Speidi:
Reach for A-list fame—and don’t stop until you have it. “One key difference between Speidi and [their Hills co-star] Lauren Conrad is that Lauren always looks annoyed at the fact that she’s a celebrity or that fact that the paparazzi are following her, or that she has to give interviews,” Perez Hilton says. “She’s the one who’s always complaining and crying. But Speidi are having fun with it, and people enjoy that. They don’t take themselves seriously. They’re very self-aware and have a great sense of humor. They’re in on the joke, and I personally find that really refreshing.”
When it comes to plugging Heidi’s music, Pratt is ruthless, even holding up signs telling readers to check out her latest tracks on iTunes. “I will be shameless and ridiculous about it,” he says, “because I love her music. These are hit songs. Interscope can put $18 million behind Nicole Scherzinger’s flop solo album, but Heidi and I are going the underground route, where iTunes takes its cut, and the rest goes to Heidi. Sure, Lady Gaga’s got hit songs, but she’s eating at Taco Bell. Heidi’s got amazing songs and has her portrait on the wall at Cut [steak house in Los Angeles].” Ooh, burn!
Befriend, then tip off, the paparazzi everywhere you go. “The paparazzi are like family members to us,” Spencer says. “And family members help each other. I respect the paparazzi more than anybody. They’ve got more hustle than any actors or musicians. Some celebrities aren’t like Spencer and Heidi, and they think they’re too cool for school [to pose for paparazzi].” Although he won’t say how much a photo for the two of them sell for, Pratt admits, “It’s stupid scary. A lot, a lot, a lot, of money. It’s just crazy.”
“Spencer Pratt is definitely very smart,” Hilton says. “They don’t [stage photos] much anymore, and I think it’s because they realized they were doing it too much. But I can never get enough of those staged photos. They were super cheesy and campy, and blatantly obvious. Speidi were the first to do it so much and so openly—even though they lied about it at first. It wasn’t until the very end that they started to be more open about it. But it worked for them! It got them to another level of celebrity.”
Twitter your every move. “Twittering is an absolute gift from God,” Pratt says. “To be able to connect to people through your PDA, to upload photos and video, it’s the most powerful content provider ever. It’s gonna be a billion times bigger than MySpace or Facebook, because like me, most people only have time for the little 140-character update. Heidi’s on her Twitter all day long, more than anything.”
Cash in. “I don’t know numbers or how much they charge, but I know they get paid to show up at appearances,” Hilton says. When Pratt told Letterman he charges $100,000 to make nightclub appearances, Letterman famously replied, "Stop it, just stop. For a second there, I thought you actually said $100,000."
“In this economy, clubs are having trouble selling bottles, and it’s a whole different world than when Paris was making millions and Speidi was making thousands and thousands,” Pratt says. “But we were blessed to have gotten a little piece of that, and hopefully one day people will have go spend tons of money at nightclubs again.”
Embrace the haters. “I don’t know about Heidi, but I’ve been laughing at myself since I was 10,” Pratt says. “I can’t even imagine what I would think about Spencer Pratt if I wasn’t Spencer Pratt. I read every comment that people write. Most people get 30 comments, but a post about me gets like 2,000 of the most evil comments. But I’m motivated by those reactions. I smile and thank them for caring about me that much, and for letting me, Spencer Pratt—some random person they don’t even know—cause them to want to type something. They keep me going. It’s juice. It’s power. Persecute me, please.”
Love them or hate them, they’re not going anywhere. “I think people will try [to follow the path they’ve taken],” Hilton says, “but it won’t always work. They know how to work it in a way that other people don’t. They’re not just reality-TV stars. They’re on the covers of magazine. They’re real celebrities now. They’re here forever.”
The ever-humble Pratt, not surprisingly, concurs. “What’s that expression? ‘Pry my gun from my dead hands’ or something? You’ve gonna have to pry Speidi’s fame from our dead hands.”
Alison Prato graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was awarded the Hugh M. Hefner magazine scholarship. She began her journalism career with an internship at Playboy magazine and eventually rose to senior associate editor. She has been the executive editor of Giant and the entertainment director of Maxim. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Vince, and her boxer, Axl.